Sunday, January 29, 2012

A Not-Quite All Star Game

I remember a time when All-Star games were fun as a kid. It was a mid-season break in the NBA and MLB, and a last hurrah of football after the Super Bowl before going seven months without another game. (I honestly don't think I ever saw an NHL All-Star game - something that continues today)

You took a lot of pride seeing your team's representative playing with the best of the best in the league. That meant one year watching Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars, and Dennis Rodman in the NBA. Another time it was Barry Sanders in the NFL. I even remember Cecil Fielder making the final out in one game, winning it all for the American League.

But I can't watch the Pro Bowl nowadays. It's not football. It's not an athletic contest; it's a popularity contest.

Football is dangerous, so I don't get why teams would allow their best players to risk injury in a meaningless exhibition game. Didn't we have a lockout last year that was based partly on the fact that there are too many preseason games? But now we have a postseason game that is, albeit different, but is still meaningless.

In the first place, you're not playing for anything. Rules are altered in a way that wouldn't fly with fans in a regular season game. Quarterbacks can't call audibles. Three wide receivers can't line up on one side of the ball. Offenses have to use a tight end on every play. Defenses can't blitz. All defenses run a 4-3 formation. No press coverage until you get to the 5-yard line.

Essentially the NFL dumbs down the game to keep teams from getting too hardcore about winning. So why play it then?

Another problem I have is how players are selected. It should be the best players of that season in the game. Instead, we have something like in economics called a "lagging indicator." Players like the Lions' Matthew Stafford were snubbed for players such as Cam Newton after throwing for over 5,000 yards and 41 TDs.

It's possible Stafford could go next year as the third quarterback or 1st alternate, granted Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers are still the best two QBs in the NFC. After those two, there's kind of a bottleneck with Stafford, Matt Ryan, Eli Manning, and Newton. Either way, Stafford has a good shot at going to Hawaii next year.

Even if you are picked, it's not a slight to skip the game altogether. Players who have injuries that would otherwise play through them in a regular season game duck the Pro Bowl. Last year, Ndamukong Suh went and had surgery on his shoulder, despite winning the most votes of any defensive tackle and being named an All-Pro. This year, Calvin Johnson is skipping the game because of a sore Achilles tendon.

More to the point, guess which teams are guaranteed not to have representatives, despite having selections? The two Super Bowl contenders. Why? It's obvious the fans have caught on. It was only last year that the NFL, once they switched the dates of Pro Bowl and Super Bowl, saw its highest number of viewers for the game (technically the NFL started this in 2010, but viewership was up to 13.4 million last year). It fills a void between the Conference Championships and the biggest game of all.

So really, what's the point of this game if nothing else, it gives Roger Goodell another chance to pitch his 18-game schedule plan for the next CBA? Just kill it now.

No comments: